Thursday, June 13, 2024

Rintaro Sasaki Goes To Frederick

I was sitting on the couch Monday night, browsing Twitter, when I came across a tweet that stopped me in my tracks:

"Wow," I thought to myself, "I didn't realize he was going to play in that league.  I should check Frederick's schedule and see when Trenton's coming to town."  I live in north east Maryland (not to be confused with North East, Maryland).  Frederick, Maryland, home of the MLB Draft League's Frederick Keys, is about 70 miles away so it's not an outrageous trip for me to get out there.  In fact, I did it last summer to see Yoh Daikan play against the other Frederick minor league team - the Spire City Ghost Hounds of the independent Atlantic League.  

I went to the Keys' web page, looked at the schedule and was surprised to discover that Trenton was in town THIS week.  In fact, Sasaki's US debut was going to be in Frederick!

I was back and forth for a little bit about whether I wanted to go out there on a Tuesday.  Traffic was going to suck and it was going to be a late night getting home.  My wife, however, encouraged me to go, basically saying while I might see Sasaki some other time this summer, this was the only opportunity I was going to have to see his US debut.  I was a little surprised at how good a seat I was able to get on the Keys' website.  I was able to get a front row seat above Frederick's dugout despite it being their home opener.  The real attraction of the seat was that I'd be close to Sasaki at first base and probably get some good photos of him in the field.  What I didn't realize is that I'd have a pretty good view of him at the plate as well.

I got to the ballpark around 6:30, a half hour before game time.  The drive had taken me around an hour and a half which was about what I had figured in rush hour traffic.  After entering the park, I headed to the third base side.  The clubhouses in Frederick are on the concourse of the ballpark so all the players have to walk through the stands to get to the field.  As you expect, this is where the autograph hounds congregate.  

Sasaki hadn't come out yet when I got there.  There were only two other people standing around waiting for him.  One guy had printed out some photos of Sasaki and was hoping to get them signed while the other guy was just awaiting with his camera.  There was another guy standing around, talking to the two guys who I assumed was a club official.

Sasaki eventually came out and shook his head at the guy who wanted the autograph.  He quickly made his way down to the field and started his warm ups.  There was a small number of members of the press down by the field that he had to pass as well.

The guy I had assumed was a club official stepped over and started talking to me.  It turned out he was a reporter for the Frederick New-Post.  He had originally been assigned to cover the Keys' Home Opener but with the Sasaki story breaking the day before, he was covering that aspect of it as well.  He wanted to know why I had come out to see Sasaki and what my interest in Japanese baseball was.  We talked probably for about five minutes or so with me probably telling him more than he ever wanted to know about Japanese baseball and Japanese baseball cards.  He ended up quoting me in his article, filtering my babble down to probably the most pertinent comment I made.  

I grabbed something to eat and made it to my seat in time for the national anthem - it helped that the Opening Night "festivities" (which were basically the team's owner thanking everyone in the front office) delayed the start of the game by about ten minutes.

Sasaki was batting fourth but since Trenton went three up, three down in the top of the first, his first activity on the field was at first base in the bottom of the inning.  As I planned, I had a pretty good view of him - other than the foul ball screen running to the end of the dugout:

He led off the top of the second.  Here's the result of his first at bat in the US:

A routine ground out to first on the second pitch of the at bat.

His next at bat came the following inning.  The score was tied 1-1 at that point and there was a runner on with two outs.  This one had a somewhat different outcome (NOTE - I tried to upload my video directly to this post but Blogger is not loading it for some reason so I'm going to go with the video I tweeted out at the time):

I was too busy watching the ball fly to follow it with the camera.  It went over the wall in right field for a two run home run.  According to the game log, it went 352 feet, leaving the bat at 99.7 mph with a launch angle of 41 degrees.

The other batters in Trenton's lineup were having a pretty good night as well and Sasaki found himself at the plate again the next inning, his third at bat in four innings.  This time he flew out to shallow center.

His next at bat in the sixth inning came with two outs and two men on.  He came through again, hitting an RBI single to right field, making the score 5-1.  He would come around to score two batters later on Ryland Zaborowski's double.  Trenton would score five runs in that inning and lead 9-1.

He struck out swinging to lead off the eighth and I assumed his night at the plate was over at that point, especially after Trenton went down in order that inning.  But Trenton rallied in the top of the ninth, although the inning looked over when Landon Frei, the batter just before Sasaki in the batting order, hit what looked like an easy fly ball to right field.  Somehow, however, right fielder Tervell Johnson dropped the ball for an error, bringing Sasaki to the plate with runners on second and third.  Sasaki walked to load the bases but the next batter struck out to end Trenton's offensive night.  Frederick got a couple batters on in the bottom of the ninth but was unable to bring either of them in so the game ended with an 11-1 Trenton victory.

Sasaki would end the evening having gone 2-5 with a single, a home run, two runs scored and three knocked in, along with a walk and a strikeout.  Not a bad debut for a nineteen year old.

I'm no scout so I can't tell you anything about how Sasaki appeared at the plate.  I will say that he seemed very comfortable and confident on the field for a teenager playing his first actual game a long way from home.  I didn't get a good photo of it, but he appeared to be joking around with the first base umpire a lot of the game:

It was a fun night and I'm glad I decided to make the trek out to Frederick, despite getting home late.  It's going to be interesting to see how Sasaki does in future games.


thedude said...

Awesome update...Thank you.

What level would that team be if a MLB minor league team? Low A? Dominican Summer League?

Brady DiCarlo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brady DiCarlo said...

That's cool you got mentioned in an article. Also, wow you have over 80,000 Japanese cards? My Japanese collection is somewhere in the thousands.

NPB Card Guy said...

@thedude - probably something between those levels but as I said in the post, I'm no scout

@Brady DiCarlo - yeah, I don't know the exact number because my database is a little odd in how it tracks stuff but there's over 82,000 entries in it

Nick Vossbrink said...

Trenton is my local and I had no idea. Sasaki is of course interesting to me for Stanford reasons as well. I was going to try and see him tonight but it's been raining/thundering on/off all day and yeah not the best weather for a ball game. Will definitely try and get down there this weekend though.

NPB Card Guy said...

It really looked like no one had any warning he was going to join Trenton until last Monday.